Learning to hula on Oahu, snorkelling on Lanai, following the movie trail on Kuau’i and getting up close to volcanoes on Big Island – you can do it all in Hawaii!
I first visited Hawaii way back in 1975 on my honeymoon. Back then I was happy to stay on Oahu and chill out on Waikiki Beach. But this time round I was determined to experience the other islands.
I started my trip by flying into Honolulu as I wanted to check out Waikiki after all these years and see if it had changed. I was pleasantly surprised as Waikiki has reinvented itself as an upmarket beach destination complete with all the obligatory designer shops. This is a town that welcomes a huge number of tourists each day and you will find all the major hotel chains here. Modern skyscraper hotels front the pristine beach set against the magnificent backdrop of Diamond Head volcanic crater. I stepped back in time and stayed at the towering Sheraton Princess Kaiulani – the same hotel where I spent my honeymoon! Like all large hotels it is pretty anonymous but it is a comfortable and convenient base from which to explore Waikiki.
I travelled to the beautiful north shore to experience the other side of Oahu, where the pace of life is slower and you can immerse yourself in the islands natural beauty. I stayed at the Turtle Bay Resort, situated on miles of unspoilt beaches and a perfect honeymoon destination.
To discover more about the history, culture and working lives of the Polynesian people a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Centre (www.polynesia.com) on Oahu’s windward coast is a must. You can discover ancient crafts and learn to hula or just wander through the beautiful gardens.
My first hop was to Maui, a great contrast to Oahu and known as the Magic Isle. Although it appears at first glance to be flat and uninteresting, travel away from the airport and you will find the dormant volcano of Haleakala Crater with its lunar landscape, or take the scenic road to the town of Hana through rainforest and waterfalls. The picturesque town of Lahaina was once the heart of the Hawaiian Islands where the whaling ships docked. Today the town attracts the tourists with quaint shops, galleries and restaurants housed in the old wooden shop fronts. Lahaina is also host to the ‘Old Lahaina Lu’au’. It is held each evening in a beautiful setting by the ocean and begins just before sunset. Guests are greeted with fragrant leis made from orchid blossom and served tropical cocktails whilst watching a variety of Hawaiian craftsmen at work. As darkness falls and the brilliant stars appear in the inky skies the show commences and hula dancers, singers and musicians all tell their stories of the islands.
On Maui I stayed at the Outrigger Aina Nalu. Recently renovated, this is a self catering property consisting of various sized condos. It is set back from the town in a peaceful residential road. The infinity pool and gardens are a great bonus.
You can squeeze in another island on a day trip from Maui – the tiny island of Lanai lies just off the coast of Lahaina and is reached either by a ferry or the more stylish ‘Trilogy’ Catamaran (www.sailtrilogy.com). Set sail from Lahaina Harbour just as the sun is rising and tuck into warm cinnamon rolls and hot coffee en route. Lanai was originally famous as being one big pineapple plantation but has recently reinvented itself as an upmarket holiday destination. Make time for snorkelling at Hulopoe Bay Marine Sanctuary, the crystal clear waters are home to hundreds of tropical fish, sea turtles and spinner dolphin
If it is adventure you are after then the island of Kuau’i beckons visitors with a host of exciting activities, watersports, 4x4 land tours, mountain tubing and zip line tours to name just a few. Take a helicopter tour to appreciate the awesome interior of Kaua’i. Contact www.airkauai.com for timetable and prices.
Hold on to your seat because the experienced pilots know how to get really up close and personal to some of the highest waterfalls and deepest valleys. Movie buffs will appreciate the ‘Movie Tours’ that visit the locations of some of Hawaii’s famous films and TV shows. Jurassic Park is probably one of Kauai’s most famous movies but Elvis fans will remember Blue Hawaii filmed at the legendry Coco Palms Hotel in Wailua Bay. In the north of the island is beautiful and serene Hanalei Bay was the backdrop for South Pacific and on the west coast the brooding Kong Mountain featured in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lord of the Flies. My accommodation on Kuau’i was the Outrigger Waipouli Beach Resort & Spa Kapaa, another high quality condo complex, very spacious with an amazing pool area.
The largest island is confusingly named Hawaii – or Big Island. You could easily spend your entire holiday here as it has an amazing diversity in geography and climate. Take a drive around the island and you will pass through tropical rain forests, lava fields, volcanic mountains and rolling hills. At Kona on the west coast you will be amazed by huge expanses of black lava stretching into the sea. The area is famed for diving and snorkelling and a visit to Kealakekua State Park is a must. Further along the coast the land is dotted with coffee plantations, each producing the world famous Kona Coffee and most are happy to give tours to visitors and sell the freshly roasted beans. The active volcanoes for which the island is so well known can be explored at fairly close quarters from the Volcanoes National Park. The island's capital is Hilo, situated along the crescent shaped Hilo Bay on the East Coast where frequent and heavy rainfall has created a tropical environment of lush valleys and gushing waterfalls. Hilo is a commercial centre but does have an attractive ‘old town’ area full of shops, galleries and restaurants as well as museums, parks a cultural centre and a great programme of seasonal festivals and events.
I can’t speak highly enough of the Kona Village Resort on Big Island. Pretty bungalow accommodation dotted around on the black lava - try and get an ocean front, it is worth the extra money. At night the resort is visited by a pair of enormous manta rays who come within touching distance of the shore. The hotel restaurant serves the best food I have ever tasted in the USA, with the bonus of eating beside the sea.
Also on Big Island I stayed at the quaint Dolphin Bay Hotel in Hilo. Although an ordinary small hotel, the Dolphin Bay has a great location within walking distance of Hilo Old Town. Another bonus is that the owner is mad about volcanoes and tracks the daily lava flow with great enthusiasm.
You certainly won’t see everything in two weeks and I have just touched on some of my experiences but hopefully you will fall in love with one or more of the islands and want to go back and explore it more thoroughly.